Wednesday, May 23, 2012

a year of free motion quilting

I recently just came across my first ever attempt at free motion quilting and realized it was just about 1 year ago (give or take a few days) that I received my new darning foot for my Birthday and sat down to try FMQ for the first time.  1 year ago - and even though it is a bit embarrassing to show this I decided it was worth showing to make a point.  I had never taken a lesson- only watched a few videos via Leah Day's Blog and some serious inspiration from Angela Walters fabulous quilting.  I had a vision of what I wanted to achieve- gorgeous modern FMQ just like Angela does- and was armed with a bit of knowledge with Leah's fantastic video tutorials.  I went for it- and at the time was pretty proud of what I produced- you can see a bit of really bad stippling in the upper left corner, a few daisies on the center right side, some super wonky pebbling in the lower left corner, as well as a bit of tree bark just above that and on top of it all my first spiral.  Looking at this now makes me laugh.  But in a good way.  I can see the driven optimism in each stitch and even though my quilting has come in leaps and bounds I won't pretend I am a perfect quilter yet or that I won't marvel at my current projects a year from today and see how much I have improved.  It is a journey after all.  What I do find to be pretty special is that I stayed focused on this all year- rarely did a week go by that I wasn't quilting in one way or another.  I was like an addiction for me, and I did get better.  Much better.  And now one year from my starting point I am quilting my second quilt for a paying customer- and have several quilts and smaller projects under my belt.  It shows you that if you want something bad enough and are willing to work at it with reckless abandon you can achieve your dreams.  My goals have grown and so have my abilities... but it is good to see what I started this venture with, and remind myself to keep working hard and keep challenging myself.  I leave you with my top 5 quilting tips garnered over my year of experience. 
1) quilt with your shoes off, bare feet is best- in order to get your stitches relatively the same length you need to have full speed control over your machine and this cannot be achieved while wearing shoes- the subtle nuances of the foot peddle can only be felt bare foot- this was a game changing lesson for me and helped me get a lot better much faster.
2) always use the same color in the top thread and the bobbin- I promise you this is imperative.  Everything goes awry when you don't use the same colors for both. 
3) don't spend hours quilting on practice squares- don't don't don't do it!   You will get bored.  You won't do your best work because it is a throw away project.  You won't experience the pressure of quilting on something you care about which is half the battle.  The size of a practice square isn't accurate to what quilting on a real quilt feels like.  You need to be brave to get good at this- and have a can do eternal optimist attitude.  Quilt real quilts and be okay with small imperfections as it is part of your journey- a timeline of your skills and the repetition of a design on the scale of a real quilt allows that muscle memory to be formed much faster then on practice squares.  They have their time and place, but don't spend too much time with them- go for a real quilt and be proud of your results regardless of what they look like- nothing is learned overnight. 
4) play to your strengths and practice your weaknesses even harder.  I am much better at certain designs- pebbles, feathers- then other things (this is funny I know) like stippling!  I know stippling is where most people start and what they master before moving on to anything else.  Maybe my brain is just wired different then most but stippling was always a huge challenge for me- the randomness of it all was just hard.  I could do it well for a while and then things would just start looking wonky.  If I had forced myself to get good at that first before moving on to anything else I would have given up long ago.  So I found things I was good at and did them a lot- featured them in prominent areas of my quilts so I felt I was doing a good job.  But I made myself stipple other areas on almost every project- not because I wanted to, but because I needed to.  That combination of confidence heavy designs mixed with the designs I was weaker at has allowed me to be a more well rounded quilter- and now I am not afraid to try anything. 
5) relax and enjoy it.  It is supposed to be fun- it is a hobby!  If you aren't having fun move on to something else until you are ready to try it again- keep the music loud, relax your shoulders, don't clench your teeth- take lots of breaks- and enjoy it!  Quilting is fun when you let it be that way!

and lastly- a picture of the current quilt I am working on for my second customer- this quilt is a beauty and quilting it has been loads of fun for me- I am still very much in progress- but it's coming along and I sure am enjoying it.  It will be fun to see what another year of experience brings me.


  1. I can't sew with my shoes on--doesn't feel right! It took me forever to stipple, and I'm still not great at it. I want to start trying other techniques. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Thanks for the tips- I'll bear them in mind when I finally get myself a darning foot! Great to see what can be achieved in a year.

  3. Well done for keeping going with the FMQ. I am a bit rusty these days so need to get back to it. Perhaps I should watch the tutorials you mentioned! Thanks for the tips!